When the interview was over they told him his wife had called. He phoned the house. "Don't come back here," she said. "There are two hundred journalists on the sidewalk waiting for you."
"I'll go to the agency," he said. "Pack a bag and meet me there."
His literary agency, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, had its offices in a white-stuccoed house on Fernshaw Road in Chelsea. There were no journalists camped outsideevidently the world's press hadn't thought he was likely to visit his agent on such a dayand when he walked in every phone in the building was ringing and every call was about him. Gillon Aitken, his British agent, gave him an astonished look. He was on the phone with the British-Indian member of Parliament for Leicester East, Keith Vaz. He covered the mouthpiece and whispered, "Do you want to talk to this fellow?"
Vaz said, in that phone conversation, that what had happened was "appalling, absolutely appalling," and promised his "full support." A few weeks later he was one of the main speakers at a demonstration against The Satanic Verses attended by over three thousand Muslims, and described that event as "one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain."
He found that he couldn't think ahead, that he had no idea what the shape of his life ought now to be, or how to make plans. He could focus only on the immediate, and the immediate was the memorial service for Bruce Chatwin. "My dear," Gillon said, "do you think you ought to go?" He made his decision. Bruce had been his close friend. "Fuck it," he said, "let's go."
Marianne arrived, a faintly deranged look glinting in her eye, upset about having been mobbed by photographers when she left the house at 41 St. Peter's Street. The next day that look would be on the front pages of every newspaper in the land. One of the papers gave the look a name, in letters two inches high: the face of fear. She didn't say much. Neither of them did. They got into their car, a black Saab, and he drove it across the park to Bayswater. Gillon Aitken, his worried expression and long, languid body folded into the backseat, came along for the ride.
His mother and his youngest sister lived in Karachi. What would happen to them? His middle sister, long estranged from the family, lived in Berkeley, California. Would she be safe there? His oldest sister, Sameen, his "Irish twin," was in a north London suburb with her family, in Wembley, not far from the great stadium. What should be done to protect them? His son, Zafar, just nine years and eight months old, was with his mother, Clarissa, in their house at 60 Burma Road, off Green Lanes, near Clissold Park. At that moment Zafar's tenth birthday felt far, far away. "Dad," Zafar had asked, "why don't you write books I can read?" It made him think of a line in "St. Judy's Comet," a song by Paul Simon written as a lullaby for his young son. If I can't sing my boy to sleep, well, it makes your famous daddy look so dumb. "Good question," he had replied. "Just let me finish this book I'm working on now, and then I'll write a book for you. Deal?" "Deal." So he had finished the book and it had been published and now, perhaps, he would not have time to write another. You should never break a promise made to a child, he thought, and then his whirling mind added the idiotic rider, but is the death of the author a reasonable excuse?
His mind was running on murder.
Five years ago he had been traveling with Bruce Chatwin in Australia's "red center," making a note of the graffito in Alice Springs that read SURRENDER, WHITE MAN, YOUR TOWN IS SURROUNDED, and hauling himself painfully up Ayers Rock while Bruce, who was proud of having recently made it all the way up to Everest base camp, skipped ahead as if he were running up the gentlest of slopes, and listening to the locals' tales about the so-called "dingo baby" case, and staying in a fleapit called the Inland Motel where, the previous year, a thirty-six-year-old long-distance truck driver called Douglas Crabbe had been refused a drink because he was already too drunk, had become abusive to the bar staff, and, after he was thrown out, had driven his truck at full speed into the bar, killing five people.
Excerpted from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie. Copyright © 2012 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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